Scotland can’t remain one of the world's climate leaders if we stand still

“If the world follows the lead of Scotland and makes its claim with these long-term targets and the rallying of business and civic and political leaders, then it's clear which direction we're going.” These are the words of former US vice president Al Gore, whose sobering documentary An Inconvenient Truth laid bare the harsh realities of our changing climate and the impacts on the planet if we don’t take urgent action.

Gore’s comments and commitment to the climate cause are admirable and leaves incumbent president Donald Trump looking even more ridiculous for removing the US from the Paris climate change agreement.

Unlike Trump, Al Gore knows a thing or two about climate change, and has praised the Scottish Parliament’s targets. But time has moved on, and we must now see greater ambition in the form of a robust climate change bill that will see Scotland step up to the increased challenge that the Paris agreement demands.

On Thursday Scottish ministers will outline, after months of consulting and deliberation, how they plan to maintain Scotland’s status as a global leader on climate change action, and as you would expect, Greens have a few ideas for what they should say.

Scotland’s current target is for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 80 per cent against 1990 levels by 2050. The Government’s consultation on a new Climate Bill notes that reducing emissions can provide wide economic and social benefits like new jobs, improved air quality, and better health. While it proposes increasing the target to a 90 per cent reduction, the date it suggest would actually represent slower emission cuts than we’ve achieved so far.

But aiming earlier would drive essential innovation in transport, energy and agriculture - the biggest sources of emissions. We should not slow down in our approach; we should aim to catch up and overtake other European countries such as France and Sweden who have already committed to becoming zero-carbon.

Greens in Government in Sweden have already committed to cutting net carbon emissions to zero by 2045. An agreement drawn up by a cross-party committee was passed with an overwhelming majority in parliament. It establishes an independent Climate Policy Council and requires an action plan to be updated every four years.

The new Climate Change Bill is crucial if Scotland is to seize the opportunities of new jobs in the low carbon economy, and that's why the Greens are campaigning for a target of net-zero emissions by 2040, to keep us on track toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and maintain at least the same pace as the previous decade of emission cuts. The First Minister says she is ‘consulting and listening’ on this. That’s good, and she should listen to the case for net-zero emissions.

Scotland’s future prosperity also depends on breaking our dependence on burning through the existing oil stocks, and building thousands of new jobs in a clean economy. The Climate Bill should explore how to set a target which keeps fossil fuels in the ground.

We also need to see plans to defend our existing renewables sector and step up Scottish Enterprise engagement to ensure maximum support for the BiFab workforce both in the short-term and long-term. Greens have been arguing that it’s not in the renewable industry’s interests for BiFab to go down, so all angles need to be covered in attempts to safeguard these valuable renewables jobs in Fife, on Lewis and in the wider sector across Scotland.

The government’s pledge to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 is welcome and is the furthest the Climate Plan has ever gone on transport. This will probably see Scotland meet the 2030 target, but we’ve made it clear to ministers that this must not be taken as a green light for scaling back ambitions on other areas, such as delivering warm homes. As Andy Wightman, the Green housing spokesperson highlighted earlier this year it’s unacceptable that 48 per cent of homes in Scotland are in a state of disrepair that contributes to fuel poverty.

The National readers will undoubtedly want to see Scotland remain as a leader on climate change. They and countless others throughout the country will be right in demanding that politicians from all parties make progress on this most urgent challenge. Al Gore makes the case that climate change is a moral issue, and it’s one we all have responsibility for.

In his conclusion to An Inconvenient Truth, Gore prophetically says, “Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, ‘What were our parents thinking? Why didn't they wake up when they had a chance?’ We have to hear that question from them, now.” Ours is the generation that must act, and on Thursday the Scottish Government must show that they have been listening.

This article first appeared in The National.